Book reviews: May 2014

By: Peta Stavelli


If you're heading off for some well-deserved R&R, there's no better time to grab a great book. We review some of the latest offerings from New Zealand publishing houses.

One -step -too -farOne Step Too Far

Tina Seskis
Penguin Books NZ, $37

Emily Coleman appeared to have it all: a cherished son, devoted husband, and a great career, until one day she packed the most stringent basics and walked out of her fabulous life.

Meanwhile, Emily's twin sister Caroline is having her own troubles with booze, drugs, and men. As the book moves between the two sisters: two halves of the same coin, it appears that Emily's once perfect life has become as shambolic as her sister's. Leaving no trace of her whereabouts, Emily moves into a sleazy London bedsit and starts afresh, finding work in a menial job. The only consolation in her sad new life is her flatmate, Angel, a young woman with an unhappy past, who ultimately introduces the former lawyer to party drugs and a lawless life.

As she spirals down, the reader is offered tantalising glimpses of the tragedy that changed Emily's perfect life forever, but is kept guessing until the end what really happened on that fateful day. Delicious.

A Can of Sunshine 

Can -of -sunshine1

Christine Leunens
RSVP Publishing, $30

Former model turned author, Christine Leunens, is somewhat of an over-achiever. Her 1999 novel, Primordial Soup, received widespread acclaim and was placed on the essential reading list of contemporary literature by the Government Association of UK Libraries.

Meanwhile, the French translation of her second novel, Caging Skies, was shortlisted for the Prix FNAC and Prix Médicis. You get the picture… this girl can write, with a style that is intelligent, observant, and witty. A Can of Sunshine looks at the taut, but ultimately rewarding, relationship between a young mother and her eccentric mother-in-law.

For me, this was an unusually rewarding read. But don't just take my word for it — The New Zealand Herald included A Can of Sunshine among its list of the 25 best books published in English worldwide in 2013, and one of only three written by New Zealanders (the others being by Booker prize-winner Eleanor Catton, and the other by Dame Fiona Kidman). Highly recommended. Buy online at rsvp-publishing.co.nz

The New Zealand Cycle Trails National -Cycle -Trails

Jonathan Kennett
Random House NZ, $45

Nga Haerenga — The New Zealand Cycle Trails is an inspired partnership project between the New Zealand Government and the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand.

The idea to build a national trial of cycle trails was conceived in 2009 and began with a $50 million dollar investment. Subsequently, another $30 million has been gifted to communities across New Zealand. The result is more than 1000 kilometres of dedicated cycle trails which are being added to as I write.

Nga Haeranga has injected new life into depressed communities, whose hidden assets of old roads and forest trails now enable the cycle tourist to get off the beaten track. Keen cyclist and author Jonathan Kennett brings the history and highlights of 23 trails to the reader in the hope they will likewise be inspired to get on their bikes and explore the dunes, riverbanks, forest roads, and lakes across this glorious country.

500 pasta dishes 500-Pasta -Dishes -front -HR

Valentina Harris
New Holland, $25

Who among us does not love a good pasta dish? Everyone seems to have their favourite. I find it hard to choose between two.

One is the good-for-the-soul, simple spaghetti dish dressed with a little cold-pressed olive oil, crushed garlic, and freshly-chopped parsley and topped off with a light sprinkle of finely-grated parmesan and the mandatory grinding of black pepper. The second, my favourite for guests, is puttanesca. But then I also love a good bolognaise, and find the occasional dish of lasagne hard to resist when my sons return home and beg me to make it for them.

I have no doubt you will find your favourite in this collection which showcases the best of Italian cuisine in a handy, compact book.

Empress Dowager CIXI Empress -Dowager

Jung Chang
Random House Group, $38

From the author of the best-selling Wild Swans comes this epic tale of the 'concubine who launched modern China'.

Empress Dowager Cixi is the most important woman in Chinese history, known for her behind-the-scenes role as the mother of the five-year-old emperor who succeeded her late husband. After her husband's death, Cixi led a successful coup to dislodge the regents he had appointed. In doing so she placed herself in an immutable position as the real ruler of China, as her country moved from a medieval to a modern state.

Jung Chang's books have sold more than 15 million copies and made her a household name in more than 40 countries, although she remains an exile from her own.

Nadia Lim's Good Food Cook Book 

Nadia Lim
Random House NZ, $50 

Nadia -Limpng

I'm a great fan of Nadia Lim's simple wholesome foods. The 2011 Master Chef New Zealand winner is a dietician and nutritionist who believes food should not only look good and taste great, it should also be good for you.

She aims to get her reader excited about preparing and sharing good food, so her recipes are eye-catching, and easy to prepare from readily available ingredients. Each recipe is accompanied by some useful anecdote about the recipe, or its star ingredient and a nutritional analyses. She includes, gluten-free, dairy-free recipes and offers recommendations for those that freeze well. 

Nadia Lim's cookbooks are simply and sensationally brilliant. Highly recommended.

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